For those who look upon the ouster of Bashar al-Assad as the sole answer to Syria’s problems, Yemen may prove to be an eye-opener, provided Iraq has not done that already. In both countries, violence has made a thunderous comeback after the nations seemed to comfortably embrace democracy. Contrary to Iraq’s controversial initiation into democracy through a foreign invasion, Yemen has had an easier time; much easier than most of the other nations in its neighbourhood that have witnessed the Arab Spring. Yemen’s ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, did need coaxing, but he did assent to a peaceful handover of power eventually. Yemen also had its presidential election in February this year that brought to power Abdur Rabbu Mansour Hadi. And yet, as the steady rise of violence — the latest being the killing of 45 people in Jaar by jihadists — suggests, democracy is a more complicated affair than the simple habit of voting. In countries such as Libya and Yemen, where rulers held on to power by a clever management of ethnic, tribal and religious conflicts, democracy is proving to be even more complicated. Both Yemen and Libya, which have seen the re-opening of age-old fault-lines in the course of their recent battle for democracy, are witnessing a surge of separatism, communal violence and militancy at the same time that the old style of politics gets replaced with the new. In Yemen, for example, Mr Saleh’s removal has coincided with the resurgence of Shiite Houthi agitation in the north, separatism in the south and the rise of a dreaded al Qaida affiliate throughout the country.
Much will depend on the resoluteness of the new dispensations in these states to fight back and promote political choice and economic growth. Mr Hadi, himself a chip of the old block in Yemen, is doing his bit by remodelling the military, which is a microcosm of Yemen’s chaotic jumble of familial, clannish and tribal loyalties that has driven its politics so long. Unfortunately, he is being thwarted not only by Mr Saleh himself, but also by his international backers such as the United States of America and Saudi Arabia, who are uneasy with Mr Hadi’s targeting of the pro-Saleh groupings that they have promoted to fight fundamentalist terror. Mr Hadi naturally finds himself amid a power tussle in Sana’a while militants gain ground elsewhere.